Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Environmentalists: Company produces Indonesian palm oil for biofuel unethically


The Associated Press
Published: July 3, 2007

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands: A Singapore-based company was involved in
slashing and burning Indonesian forests to make way for palm oil
plantations that feed the growing market for biofuels, environmental
and activist groups claimed Tuesday. The company emphatically denied
the allegations.

The Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth and Indonesian rights group
Lembaga Gemawan published a 100-page report they said details evidence
that subsidiaries of Wilmar International Ltd. dodged environmental
rules to plant palm trees in West Kalimantan.

But a Wilmar spokeswoman called the accusations "erroneous, misleading
and defamatory."

"As a responsible corporate citizen, the Wilmar Group is fully
committed to sustainable palm oil," Carolyn Lim Wan Yu wrote in an
e-mailed reaction.

Past studies by environmental groups have — without naming names —
found that developers in Malaysia and Indonesia burned vast tracts of
rain forest to grow palm oil. The fires unleashed millions of tons of
carbon dioxide, defeating the purpose of developing palm-based
biodiesel fuel as a renewable source of energy that does not
contribute to greenhouse gases.

Tuesday's report attempts to identify Wilmar — one of the world's
largest palm-oil producers — as one of those responsible, by focusing
on one small part of the company's operations. But Wilmar offered a
point-by-point rebuttal of the allegations.

The groups said they had found evidence of "burning with the intention
to clear land ... plantation development without approved
environmental impact assessments, (and) land rights conflicts
resulting from encroachment outside areas allocated" by government

Activist Laili Kharnur of Lembaga Gemawan traveled from Indonesia to
Amsterdam for the report's release and to file complaints with several
Dutch banks that finance Wilmar. In an interview with The Associated
Press, she said she had witnessed first hand the misery caused by
illegal deforestation.

"For instance, in the village of Senujuh, in Sejangkung subdistrict,
Wilmar cut down the trees or forests, of which 400 hectares (nearly
1,000 acres) (are) not in Wilmar's concession area. This is owned by
villagers," Kharnur said.

The villagers "lost their trees, they lost their natural resources,
because they depend on the forest for food, for their livelihood also.
If you take my trees, it's as if you took my life," she said.

In a response, Wilmar denied outright ever setting fires or failing to
acquire proper development permits. It said that "minor disagreements
and conflicts among villagers/villages in and around our plantation
projects do sometimes arise ...(but) in cases where the communities
are not supportive of the project, we will not proceed."

Anne van Schaik, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth's Dutch arm,
Environmental Defense, said the report was released on Tuesday in part
to influence the Dutch government. A parliamentary debate is scheduled
for Wednesday on what steps should be taken to ensure crops used to
create biofuels as replacements for oil and gas do not do more harm
than good.

The Netherlands is Europe's biggest importer of palm oil, used in a
wide range of supermarket products as well as an alternative to fossil

The Dutch guidelines may act as a template for other European nations.
A draft version released this year says production of biofuels should
not contribute to deforestation, deplete reservoirs of carbon captured
in the earth, degrade soil or water supplies, or displace local


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